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During an appearance on the Circling the Bases Pod with Christopher Crawford on Wednesday night, we went over a bunch of highlights and lowlights through the first-third of the 2021 MLB season. It got me to thinking about the season’s biggest surprises. And it doesn’t get any bigger than Rangers outfielder Adolis Garcia.
Acquired from the Cardinals in December of 2019, Garcia was actually designated for assignment by the Rangers in February, but here he is as one of the game’s standout sluggers. The 28-year-old is second in the AL with 16 homers while also racking up 41 RBI, seven steals, and 27 runs scored with a .284/.320/.574 batting line. I still have concerns about the approach, but he makes so much hard contact that there’s an avenue for continued success.
Over on the pitching side, Carlos Rodon’s resurgence has been something to behold. And in truth, it’s not as much of a resurgence as it has been a progression. The southpaw is actually coming off his worst start of the season, but he still holds a 1.98 ERA and 80/13 K/BB ratio in 54 2/3 innings. He’s throwing harder than ever and getting more whiffs than ever before. Here’s hoping he can stay healthy because he looks like an ace right now.
This theme of surprise standouts wouldn’t be complete without mentioning Giants catcher Buster Posey, who has turned back the clock with a .315/.403/.585 batting line and 10 homers over 37 games. Keep in mind that he hit just seven homers in 114 games in 2019 and five homers in 105 games in 2018. His contact rate isn’t in line with his peak, but he’s barreling the ball up like we haven’t seen in years. The year off apparently did wonders for him. He’s back to being a top-five catcher in mixed leagues. Not bad for someone who had an average draft position outside of the top 240 according to NFC data.
Have specific questions about your roster? Ask @djshort on Twitter.
(Players rostered in under 50 percent of Yahoo leagues)
Note: Percentages are from the morning of Thursday, June 3rd
Pavin Smith 1B/OF, Diamondbacks (Yahoo: 47 percent rostered)
When I mentioned Smith in this column back on April 29, he was rostered in just 10 percent of Yahoo leagues. A lot of folks have gotten on board since then, but there’s still some room on the bandwagon. Smith has been out of his mind of late, hitting .417 (20-for-48) with six extra-base hits (including two homers), eight RBI, and 11 runs scored over his last 13 games. He’s mostly played first base of late, but has also been mixed in between both corner-outfield spots. Bottom line, he’s going to play as long as he keeps hitting. It would be nice to see Smith put the ball in the air more often, but as I noted in April, Smith makes plenty of contact and has also proven to be tough to strike out. It’s temping to just recommend a hot hitter and walk away, but Smith genuinely appears to have staying power.
Tony Gonsolin SP/RP, Dodgers (Yahoo: 46 percent rostered)
Gonsolin was recommended as an IL stash a few weeks ago and it looks like that’s about to pay off. Making his way back from right shoulder inflammation, the 26-year-old has allowed three runs with a 7/1 K/BB ratio in 6 2/3 innings through his first two rehab starts with Triple-A Oklahoma City. He’s expected to throw about five innings and 75 pitches in his next outing on Thursday. Assuming all goes well, he’ll make his return to the Dodgers’ rotation next week. That’s something most fantasy mangers should be ready to pounce on. Gonsolin holds an impressive 2.60 ERA and 83/22 K/BB ratio over 86 2/3 innings in the majors. With the Dodgers’ offense behind him, he’s capable of providing a nice boost in all formats.
Edward Olivares OF, Royals (Yahoo: 21 percent rostered)
Called up by the Royals over the weekend, Olivares has received a chance at some playing time in recent days with Jorge Soler sidelined due to a groin issue. The 25-year-old was tearing things up in Triple-A with a .395/.473/.654 batting line to go along with 10 extra-base hits (including five homers) and seven steals over 20 games. Olivares has shown an interesting power/speed combo in the minors, including 18 homers and 35 steals over 127 games with the Padres’ Double-A affiliate in 2019. He didn’t stand out in the majors last year — he was traded to the Royals in the Trevor Rosenthal deal — but making contact wasn’t a major issue for him in the minors. His speed is a plus and we know the Royals like to run, so there are worse speculative plays in deeper formats.
C.J. Cron 1B, Rockies (Yahoo: 46 percent rostered)
Cron has cooled off considerably since returning from the injured list in mid-May, with many fantasy managers dropping him in the process, but this is a good time to get on board with the Rockies hosting the Athletics for a three-game series this weekend. Cron is hitting .292 with four homers, 14 RBI, and a .948 OPS at home this season compared to hitting .254 with one homers and a .693 OPS on the road. The power potential remains — regardless of venue — and he’s still hitting cleanup on a regular basis. Don’t give up on him.
Victor Robles OF, Nationals (Yahoo: 32 percent rostered)
It feels weird to recommend a player I was generally avoiding in drafts this spring, but Robles is basically free right now in many leagues, so why the heck not? He’s especially worth the gamble if you are trying to plug a hole due to injury. While Robles’ overall numbers don’t show it, he was finally showing some signs of progress with the bat prior to his ankle sprain. I still think he’s a flawed hitter, but he’s an excellent source of speed and it’s hard to give up on a player with his pedigree.
Ty France 1B/2B/3B, Mariners (Yahoo: 34 percent rostered)
France has been swinging the bat well since returning from a stint on the injured list with left wrist inflammation, hitting .342 (13-for-38) with three doubles and seven RBI over 10 games. He’s struck out just six times in 40 plate appearances, showing the strong contact ability he was known for in the minors. He’s hit cleanup in each of the last three games while functioning as the primary first baseman. His versatility is the big key, especially with as many injuries as we’ve seen in baseball this season, but there’s some pop in his bat too.
Grouping these players together for those trying to grab an alternative at the catcher position with Mitch Garver on the shelf following groin surgery. Gomes was a nice surprise last year, but he’s been more impressive in some ways so far this year, boosting his contact rate and his zone contact rate to career-high levels. Of course, not all contact is good contact, and we’re seeing that with the ground balls and infield fly balls. Still, he has a history of hitting for power and there’s a good chance he’s not a batting average liability anymore.
As for McCann, he finally seems to be hitting his stride at the plate, hitting .344 (11-for-32) with three homers, three doubles, and nine RBI over his last nine games. He’s boosted his OPS from .508 to .650 during this time. That’s still not great, but McCann getting a break from catching on a daily basis appears to be working for him. The veteran backstop played some first base with Pete Alonso sidelined and now he’s set to split playing time with Tomas Nido. With the catcher spot, many fantasy managers don’t necessarily need that volume, they just need production when the player actually plays. McCann has been able to carve out value in a similar arrangement with the White Sox, so let’s see how this goes.
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(Players rostered in under 10 percent of Yahoo leagues)
Taylor Trammell OF, Mariners (Yahoo: 8 percent rostered)
Trammell was demoted last month upon Jarred Kelenic’s arrival, but he’s back with Kyle Lewis hitting the injured list due to a torn meniscus in his right knee. Surgery is a possibility for Lewis, though he’s getting a second opinion before making a decision. Either way, Trammell (and Jake Fraley) have the chance to establish themselves here. To his credit, Trammell took the demotion in stride, mashing to the tune of a .384/.413/.726 batting line with six homers and 19 RBI over 17 games with Triple-A Tacoma. Strikeouts have been a major issue during his time with the Mariners this season, but the power and speed makes him worth a pickup in deeper leagues.
Cole Sulser RP, Orioles (Yahoo: 4 percent rostered)
The Orioles just lost 14 consecutive games, so does it really matter who is accumulating saves and holds? Sadly, not really. One thing we do know is that Cesar Valdez isn’t likely to be afforded save chances with the way he’s pitched recently. His profile wasn’t built to last, but it was still fun to watch. Paul Fry has earned consideration, but Sulser is much improved from last year as well, compiling a 1.74 ERA with 32 strikeouts and eight walks over 20 2/3 innings. He notched five saves for the club last year, but finished with a 5.56 ERA and 19/17 K/BB ratio over 22 2/3 innings. This version of Sulser — with increased changeup usage and alterations on the pitch — is obviously a lot more interesting, even if the situation is quite muddled. In leagues where every save matters, Sulser should be added. And he’s doing enough outside of the saves category to remain useful.
Alex Cobb SP, Angels (Yahoo: 12 percent rostered)
Cobb has looked good since returning from a stint on the IL with a blister on his right middle finger, allowing one run in 12 innings with a 12/2 K/BB ratio over two starts. He completed seven innings for the first time this season in his most recent start against the Athletics. The peripherals look great (43 strikeouts and 12 walks in 33 1/3 innings) and he’s doing a good job limiting hard contact, so throwing him out there against the Mariners on Saturday should be an easy call in most leagues.
Merrill Kelly SP, Diamondbacks (Yahoo: 11 percent rostered)
Kelly was tagged for five runs over 6 2/3 innings in his start against the Mets on Monday, but let’s just call that a bump in the road. He had a 3.46 ERA and 42/12 K/BB ratio in 41 2/3 innings over his previous seven starts. He didn’t allow more than three earned runs in any of those starts. He’s worth another try with a start against the Brewers this weekend. He’s tentatively lined up for a start against the Angels next week, which is a recommended start as well.
Ryan Jeffers C, Twins (Yahoo: 1 percent rostered)
I mentioned Yan Gomes and James McCann above as possible replacements for Mitch Garver, but Jeffers will literally replace him with the Twins. Jeffers is just 7-for-38 (.184) with one homer during his time in the majors this year, but he hit well in a small sample last year and brings some useful pop to the table. He even makes sense as an option in two-catcher mixed leagues.
Gilberto Celestino OF, Twins (Yahoo: 0 percent rostered)
The Twins are in need of another center fielder. Rob Refsnyder was forced to the injured list on Wednesday due to concussion symptoms, so Celestino got the call from Double-A Wichita. The 22-year-old was hitting .250/.344/.381 with two homers over 21 games down there, so he doesn’t exactly stand out in fantasy leagues, but he has a history of hitting for contact in the minors with some useful speed to boot. Most importantly for the Twins, he plays a heck of a center field. He’s a decent stopgap depending on roster need.
Tucupita Marcano 2B/3B/SS, Padres (Yahoo: 0 percent rostered)
Marcano returned to the majors over the weekend and could see a steady number of at-bats in the coming days with Fernando Tatis Jr.’s status in question and Tommy Pham and Ha-Seong Kim involved in a nasty collision on Wednesday. Marcano hasn’t hit in the majors yet, but he’s been a contact hitter in the minors and flashes plus-speed. His versatility is a big key, so he makes sense as a stopgap.
Sean Reid-Foley RP, Mets (Yahoo: 1 percent rostered)
The Mets optioned Reid-Foley to Triple-A this week with Seth Lugo coming off the injured list, but odds are he’ll be back very soon. In reality, he didn’t deserve to be sent down in the first place. Acquired in the Steven Matz deal over the winter, Reid-Foley has posted a dominant 1.98 ERA and 20/4 K/BB ratio over 13 2/3 innings this season. His strikeout percentage is 18th-highest among all pitchers with at least 10 innings pitchers. He’s been extremely valuable in a multi-inning role, but it will be interesting to see if the Mets give him a shot in the rotation with David Peterson struggling.